Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

“Weeks” – What kind of name is “Weeks”?

Posted by rabbiart on June 7, 2008

Jewish names are a fascinating business, and I’m not even talking about names of people.  Our Torah portions are named according to the first significant word in the parshah.  Sometimes the parshah name gives a good indication of the content of the parshah, sometimes they seem merely coincidental, and sometimes they have almost nothing to do with the parshah.  “Breshit” makes perfect sense; its all about beginnings.  “Noah” works for the same reasons.  “Chayei Sarah” (Life of Sarah) – not about the life of Sarah.  “Behar” (at the mount) is puzzling to say the least.  One word later is “Sinai”.  That might have made a much better name.  Or how about “Behar Sinai” so at least we know what mountain we’re talking about.  And the portion where we receive the Torah?  Named after a non-Jew! (No offense to you Jethro, or your buddy Homer 🙂 )

Holiday names?  A pretty good assortment. Except maybe for the one we’re about to celebrate?  Why is “Shavuot” (weeks) called “Shavuot”?  “Sukkot” (booths) makes perfect sense.  We spend a week living in a booth.  “Pesach” (pass-over) reminds us of the very moment in which the Israelite escape from Egypt is assured.  “Shavuot”?  What the heck is Shavuot.  Yes, I know the traditional explanation; the holiday is called “weeks” because we count seven weeks (plus a day) from Pesach, and the counting connects the two holidays.  This has led to countless drashot on how Pesach is not fulfilled until we receive the Torah on Mount Sinai; that freedom without responsibility has no meaning.  All of this makes me think of the rabbnic phrase uttered when a week explanation is given – kneh shel drosh (a weak reed of a drash; imagine a concrete block standing on top of a reed growing out of a marsh; not a good design).  (Here’s a few more good holiday names, mostly.  Rosh HaShannah for the beginning of the year.  OK, so originally it was the beginning of the seventh month, but why worry about that now?  Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – that says it all.  It works for post-biblical holidays as well.  Hanukah – rededication.

So what would a “good and meaningful” name for the revelation holiday be?   Google “Shavuot” and “Name” and you’ll find that Shavuot has either three or four primary names; depending on where you do your surfing.  In addition to the official name; it also is known by a couple of agriculture related names; Yom HaBikkurim (day of the first fruits), Hag Hakatzir (harvest day), and perhaps the most resonant name Zman Matan Torateinu (the time of the giving of our Torah).

The official name could be “matan Torah” (the present of the Torah). If we’re happy ( and you know it clap your hands, sorry) about getting the Torah, we could call the holiday Simchat Torah.  Oh, can’t use that, because it’s already used when we finish and start the Torah reading cycle in the fall.

Personally, I’d vote for Kabbalat Torah, not that anyone is holding a vote or proposing renaming the holiday.  Here’s why.

  • The first two paragraphs of the Shema that we recite twice a day are known as Kabbalat Ol Shamayim and Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot.  Respectively, these are the reception/acceptance of the “yoke” of heaven, and the reception/acceptance of the “yoke” of the commandments.
  • When Shabbat enters our life, wherever that may be, we greet it with Kabbalat Shabbat
  • Traditional Jewish weddings are preceded by pre-ceremony receptions (separately) for bride and groom.  The bride’s reception is called Kabbalat Panim (faces). And how does rabbinic judaism express the relationship between G-d and Israel?  As a marriage!

We gather on Erev Shavuot for the traditional eating of dairy (or soy) foods and study sessions.  Imagine doing the study under a giant chuppah, to reaffirm our vow to accept the Torah each year of our “marriage.”  think about  it.


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